Professional links are a match made in heaven for career prospects

Business schools have links with specific industries and with certain local companies, so choose wisely, says Harriet Swain
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The Independent Online

For the past three years, all new full-time employees at a small Warwickshire consultancy firm have been MBA graduates from Birmingham Business School. Every year, the oil and gas company Exxon Mobil visits Manchester University Business School in search of recruits and earlier this month, the London Business School organised a recruitment event attended by more than one hundred FTSE 100 companies, including Boston Consulting, Proctor and Gamble and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Most business schools have developed links with specific companies over the years – often through alumni, faculty, or involvement in training or consultancy. And these links are always important in the recruitment round. But how much does it matter where students study for an MBA if they are aiming to secure a job in a particular sector?

Not very, according to Andrew Miles, external relations manager at Birmingham Business School. "Students are going to be looking at previous employment successes, but I don't think they usually choose a specific business school for a specific industry," he says. More significant for students is a school's cultural environment and how it delivers a general business education that would fit them for work in a number of different sectors. "What we are all trying to do as business schools is to get as many employers to consider our graduates as possible," says Miles.

This is because links with both particular companies and sectors can be fluid, depending on personal contacts and the economic climate. Most schools, therefore, emphasise the breadth of education and experience they offer, and the variety of industries in which their graduates end up. "What we are really concerned with developing is people who can be hands-on managers, rather than those with particular technical skills," says Oliver Westall, director of the full-time MBA at Lancaster University Management School.

But there are still factors that make some schools more suited to particular sectors than others. First is location. Many of the London business schools are closely linked with finance companies because of being in or near the City. Hull is better known for logistics, linked to the region's transport and distribution industries. More broadly, large multinationals favour European business schools because their intake tends to be more multicultural and their graduates therefore used to working in international teams, according to Diane Morgan, director of careers services at London Business School.

Reputation is also key. "It matters very much which business school you go to in terms of what ability, what quality of education and training recruiters are expecting to see in the new recruits they bring into their organisation," says Morgan.

This includes a school's reputation for the kind of students it attracts. LBS students, for example, average six years business experience, including time spent in another country, and are often fluent in several languages, which attracts recruiters looking for international employees.

Then there is the reputation of alumni. If a company knows that previous graduates from a school had the skills or qualities it wanted, it is likely to return to recruit more.

But a school's reputation for offering a particular kind of education is also important – some offer more practical training than others. Some give greater emphasis to entrepreneurial activities, perhaps running special courses in entrepreneurship. Leeds University Business School has recently introduced a new module in entrepreneurship and innovation, also a strength of Manchester Business School.

Then there is the reputation of the faculty. Birmingham has a strong reputation for procurement. Warwick Business School attracts a high proportion of students aiming to go into telecoms, media and technology. Carol Rue, director of personal and career development at Warwick, says students should check that their career ambitions match the areas of expertise offered by a school's academics.

All this can affect not only the type of company graduates go into, but also the kind of salary they expect. Figures released by QS, publishers of the Global Recruiters' Top 100 Business Schools, shows that salaries varied significantly from school to school for MBA graduates who entered the workplace last summer.

IMD in Switzerland came top, with a reported average starting salary of $129,000 (£67,900), followed by Saïd Business School at Oxford University at $125,440 (£66,020).

Recruiters may also be inclined to stick with the schools they know. While the application process at Goldman Sachs is open to all, the company does tend to recruit from particular places, according to Sarah Crawford, its head of graduate recruitment for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In Europe, London Business School and Insead are regular sources, although it is broadening its reach as its business and language needs become more specialised.

All schools are braced for the repercussions of the current economic slowdown. Miles says there has been a slowdown in recruitment by large consultancy firms and former alumni have been reporting a drop in the number of new projects. While recruitment in government and logistics is likely to remain strong, he suggests, there may be a small fall off in procurement. But schools are not expecting dramatic changes.

Crawford says that as far as Goldman Sachs is concerned, "there is no indication at this point that we will pull back dramatically over the next six months, as it wouldn't make long-term sense". She urges prospective applicants to stay positive. "We do absolutely still have hiring needs and some will be in very niche areas," she says.

'All schools seem to have contact with financial firms'

Alvaro Lozada knew he wanted a job in finance after his MBA, but this wasn't the main influence on his choice of business school. More important was the fact that he wanted to change to finance after working as an engineer for a pharmaceutical company.



While he combed the FT lists of rankings for schools with strong finance links, and while he was keen to take a course that involved an internship, the chance to speak to current students at Manchester Business School who had made a similar change, and to MBS alumni in his native Mexico, tipped the balance.

"All of the schools I was interested in at the time had the same approach to finance," he says. "All of them appeared to have contact with financial firms. The difference was having the chance to talk to someone in the school."

This opportunity for interaction is just as important in finding a job after the MBA, he says. He managed to secure a host of opportunities when companies visited campus. These meetings allowed him to raise important questions, and mention the meeting in a subsequent covering letter, rather than submitting an anonymous application form.

He is now about to start at American Express, where he will earn around £50,000- £60,000 working in risk management – not a bad sector to be in during a credit crunch.

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